Kickstarter Lesson #93: Overestimating and Underestimating Your Tribe

29 April 2014 | 22 Comments

Tribes–a term coined by Seth Godin to refer to the people who follow you on social media–are a funny thing, especially on Kickstarter. One of the most common pieces of advice you’ll hear about Kickstarter is that you need to have an established tribe before you launch your campaign, or else the project might be dead on arrival.

But tribes can be also be misleading. Just because you have an avid fanbase doesn’t mean that they’re interested in your Kickstarter project.

This first came to light a few weeks ago when I listened to a fascinating episode of Funding the Dream with guests Michael and Stephen Stagliano. The brothers were seeking support for a game called Mice & Dice, and even though the project was failing, their candor on the podcast is refreshing to hear.

The most interesting thing to me is that Michael Stagliano is somewhat famous. I had never heard of him, but he talks about how he was on the TV show The Bachelorette and Bachelor Pad seasons 2 and 3. He has over 98,000 Twitter followers and nearly 9,400 fans on Facebook.

And yet their Kickstarter campaign–which was well researched, attractively displayed, and priced fairly–only garnered 176 backers.

Let me give you one other example, and then I’ll make my point.

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The other example is a campaign that is currently on Kickstarter and has actually reached its funding goal. It’s a survival board game called Doom and Bloom’s SURVIVAL. Just like Mice and Dice, it’s a well constructed campaign, but in the month it’s been on Kickstarter, it has raised $22,890 from 328 backers.

Out of context, those numbers are nothing to scoff at. But let’s compare them to Doom and Bloom’s tribe. The company is run by Joe and Amy Alton, authors of a book called The Survival Medicine Handbook and the hosts of a podcast/YouTube channel about surviving in the wilderness.

Joe and Amy have done a great job of building up their tribe. Their Facebook page has 6,273 fans, and their YouTube channel has over 8,000 subscribers. They shared with me that they’ve sold about 40,000 copies of their book, and their podcast has been downloaded over 136,000 times in the last 4 months.

By all accounts, they have an extremely loyal, attentive following, one that any Kickstarter creator would be envious of. But those numbers are in stark contrast to their 328 backers.

What’s going on here?

I talked to Joe and Amy about their numbers, and they mentioned that in preparation and promotion for the campaign, they attended 3 preparedness and survival expos to show off their game to the audience there, and they’ve marketed the game on several related survival podcasts.

I’ve written about the idea of building online relationships not just with your direct audience, but also with indirect audiences. For example, for my game Viticulture, my direct audience was gamers, and my indirect audience was wine lovers.

However, my post-campaign data revealed that only 4% of all backers were purely wine lovers, compared to 76% gamers. Did spending my time on an audience that wasn’t going to make much of an impact on the campaign?

I wondered the same question about the Doom and Bloom campaign, so I asked Amy if she would consider polling her audience to ask what their connection was to the campaign. Here are the results of the poll:

SurveyDoomandBloomSurvival!

The results aren’t as stark as those for Viticulture, but you can see the disproportionate numbers between gamers and non-gamers.

But most interesting to me is that despite the sheer size of the Doom and Bloom tribe, so few of those people have supported the campaign. Part of that might be Joe and Amy’s low-key approach to sharing the project with their followers–they haven’t said much about it, knowing that many of their fans want to hear about survival tips, not board game promotions. I can certainly appreciate their respectful approach to those fans.

The key, though, with both of these campaigns, is that just because you have a crowd doesn’t mean that particular crowd is interested in your Kickstarter project. Michael Stagliano’s fans follow him because they liked watching him on The Bachelorette–they’re probably interested in his love life and humor. Joe and Amy’s fans follow them because they want to know what to do to prepare for a tornado, not because they they want to play their board game.

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Now, I don’t mean for this to sound helpless. You might be reading this and thinking, “If these people have tens of thousands of followers and they can only get a few hundred backers, how am I going to get backers on my project?” I get that, and I have some pointers for you to consider:

  • Build Wisely. If you’re building a tribe, either build the right tribe for your project OR build the right project for your tribe. If you mix up the two, you might not see much of a result.
  • Focus on Your Direct Audience. Time and money are limited resources when you’re promoting a Kickstarter campaign. Make strategic choices that focus on your direct audience, not your indirect audience. Then, if you have extra time, engage that indirect audience too.
  • There Is Wisdom in the Building. Even though a large tribe doesn’t necessarily translate into Kickstarter success, you can still learn a number of skills by building a tribe that you can later translate into your Kickstarter personality and outreach methods. Michael Stagliano engages fans really well on Twitter, and Joe and Amy add value to people every day through their survival lessons.
  • The Power of $1. If you have a massive tribe (or a tiny one), ask your fans to support your campaign at the $1 level. Even if it doesn’t add up financially, the more people involved the campaign, the greater the chances of success.
  • What Is Kickstarter? One of the challenges of having a huge tribe is that a decent portion of them probably have no idea what Kickstarter is. Don’t assume that people know–make sure to explain it to them.

What are your thoughts? If you’re a Kickstarter creator, do you have any insights to share about how you built your tribe and how it translated (or didn’t translate) into Kickstarter success?

22 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #93: Overestimating and Underestimating Your Tribe

  1. Excellent thoughts Jamey!
    What I’ve learned in 1 week: My Tribe came out in full force on day one. I had almost 70 backers in less than half a day. I wasn’t even aware my Tribe was that big. The thing I didn’t expect was that I had to nudge them a bit to promote the project. Like you mention with the $1 pledge, asking your Tribe to back you is important but it’s equally important to ask them to help promote you. I lost a lot of steam in the early days by becoming violently ill on day 2, but after I got back at it, the campaign picked up steam again… all because I asked!

      1. HAH! Yes. You have my support on the violently ill lesson. I lost 2 days right at the beginning of the campaign which was a bad time to lose steam. We’re back on track now though! :-)

        1. I thought about this a while, because being sick isn’t something you could predict, I’m planning on launching a ks of my own soon and this had crossed my mind so i asked a friend if he would be my backup authority.

          Give them the passwords to social media and blog, have them write a guest post. There are lots of options. My family also suggested something to me that hadn’t even crossed my mind.

          If you’re in a relationship with someone who has nothing to do with your project don’t be afraid to ask them for help. I have someone who has nothing to do with board games at all, but they leapt at the idea. It took me a second to figure out why, I realized they were interested because I was involving them. And that alone is enough for them to make them interested.

          Just a thought.

          1. William: I really like the idea of having some sort of backup (or even a partner, as I’ve discussed before) to be there when you can’t. I also like this: “they were interested because I was involving them”. That’s a key statement not just for this backup/partner idea, but also for backers. If you invite backers–especially specific backers–to take action, they might do so just because we like being selected for involvement.

  2. Interesting post, thanks!

    It sort of goes to show just how much board games are a distinct niche (at least, in the USA and UK). You might have an amazing game for (say) pig farmers but most of the population, including most pig farmers, don’t really “get” board games. Most non-gamers will play games if they’re introduced to them by a friend, but won’t buy them without that kind of introduction. Whereas the people who tend to buy via Kickstarter are the most intense gamers, the sort of people who have 300 games on their shelves, half of them unplayed…… ;)

    1. That’s a great analogy about pig farmers, Chris. I’m a little hesitant to cast a wide web over the types of gamers on Kickstarter, as we’ve seen big and little games succeed, but I do agree that if you make a game, you should market it to gamers for your Kickstarter campaign–that’s your direct audience.

      1. I’ve had 2 of my backers so far tell me that they bought my game because it’s about trap shooting. I’m not sure of another campaign that picked a more obscure theme… but yeah. I’m not running out to promote my game to the trap shooting crowd. I’m fairly certain the two hobbies don’t cross over all that much and I could be spending that energy elsewhere.

  3. It’s worth noting that part of focusing on your direct audience involves knowing how to market to them. For board games, this includes buying ad space on BoardGameGeek. For RPGs, you could do worse than post something on RPG.net.

    There’s a pair of campaigns that I like to point at to show the difference some of this marketing makes: Braille Dice, and Board Games: Now Blind Accessible. As far as I can tell, the main difference between the two projects is marketing. Did they post anything to RPGnet? BoardGameGeek? Did they contact CNIB, BANA, or other Braille associations and associations for the blind (like Blind Matters)? Finally, looking at the phrasings used in the updates is also telling. I wish the Braille Dice had happened. I’m a sucker for neat dice. I work with Braille. It’s cool. It’s too bad that that one failed.

    There’s two lessons in the two projects: 1) know how to communicate effectively. Your job, running a kickstarter (which includes up to, and possibly after, the products are delivered), is to communicate with your backers and other potential customers, investors, and potential friends. 2) know how, and especially _where_, to market. If you know where your direct audience hangs out, post something there (within the rules!)

    1. Mike: Thanks for sharing your insights here. Communication and effective marketing are hugely determining factors in a projects success–well said. I would also add to the last like about where your direct audience hangs out that you shouldn’t wait until your project is live to find and interact with those audiences. Become a participating member well before your project launches, and be a part of the conversation just like anyone else–don’t be there to promote your project. People will then respond much better to you months down the road when you mention that you have a Kickstarter campaign in progress.

  4. Great article. Hoping our tribe comes through as this week we’re launching our new campaign for the follow-up to our first KS-funded comic. I do know that the first time around we definitely had no luck marketing to the theme crowds (noir and cryptozoology). Crossing fingers.

  5. Another interesting lesson. Very true, many people do not know or trust crowdfunding sites, I learned this the hard way. There’s also quite a lot of people, I fear, that still mistrusts using credit cards or even paypal and Amazon payments on sites they do not know.
    At least, in Italy this is a feedback I’m getting. While you probably can explain what KS or IGG are, much more difficult to address the credit card part, I think.

    1. Fabio: Hopefully Kickstarter and PayPal will continue to be sites that people trust with their credit cards. I’m not exactly sure how to help that process along, though.

  6. We had a blast building our “tribe”. Luckily, a board game Kickstarter is prime for building an audience. We play-tested our game with 20 friends and family members and then took it out to local game stores where we met hundreds of wonderful people willing to play with us. Board gaming really lends itself to building a “tribe” which we now call friends.

  7. Jamey, thanks for another helpful post. I, for one, am encouraged that I don’t need to go find all the niche groups of all the aspects of my game to get them excited. Focus. Focus my efforts, energy, time, money, relationships on the primary audience. Just because our game feels like Downton Abbey, doesn’t mean I need to become an active member in the Downton Abbey fan pages.
    What’s so great about the board game community is that, to a small extent, we’re all in neighboring tribes. This community is filled with so many amazing people, all cheering each other on. Even if I’m not currently in your tribe, I’m likely to hear about it from a friend in my tribe, and then I can support you!
    hehehe… and it makes me giggle to think of the people in my tribe wearing loin clothes and wielding spears.

    1. Well said, Kelsey. It may not be a complete waste of time, but there might be far more effective ways for you to focus your limited resources (time among them).

      I write about loin clothes far too much on my personal blog to bring them up here! :)

  8. Strangely I read this blog shortly after listening to Jamey on the BGDL podcast running a post mortem on Gabe’s first failed kickstarter and I wanted to ask, there could be few tribes better suited to turning up for a KS tabletop project than the BGDL mailing list which I think was mentioned in the podcast to be around 1600 people, so do you have any further thoughts on what happened there?

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